When 69-year-old Michael Bilski entered hospice in June 2020, he had one request of his social worker: help him turn his artwork into an illustrated storybook for others undergoing treatment. Bilski, who had stage 4 colon cancer, was a talented artist who used his gift as a way to help him through treatment. He wanted to make sure that even when he was gone, his artwork would live on to help others going through a similar situation.
Bilski specifically wanted others to write stories to accompany his artwork. His hospice social worker brought the request to Lynn Schiavone, Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) hospice volunteer coordinator, and together they coordinated a way for hospice volunteers to write a series of short stories. Fortunately, they also had help from art therapy/bereavement intern Christine Zweifel from Cedar Crest College.
According to Schiavone, creating the book was therapeutic for volunteers. “This project really helped us get through COVID-19. We were at a time when volunteers couldn’t be at the bedside, so this really helped to fill their cups and feel more involved,” says Schiavone.
By the end of November 2020, the stories were written and it was time to start piecing everything together. LVHN hospice social worker Lauren Geldon met with Bilski weekly and helped make sure his edits were completed.
The book is compiled of short stories written by volunteers who were inspired by Bilski’s illustrations. “There was obviously a lot of effort and thought that went into each story,” she says.
Finally, after multiple rounds of revisions, Geldon knew it was time to get the book printed. “Michael was starting to decline, so we needed to pull together to get the book printed and distributed to the first patient while he was still with us,” she says.
Geldon, along with art therapy intern Christine, & Lynn Schiavone, and his nurse case manager Eileen Adams, presented Bilski with a copy of the book on April 29, 2021. “It was really cool, and he even signed a copy for us,” says Geldon.
Then on June 18, 2021, they also gave the first copy to patients at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest
Bilski passed away just two days later. His books are currently being distributed at the infusion center at LVH–Cedar Crest. Schiavone believes that her team helped Bilski meet his goal and leave a mark on the world.
“A lot of people think that hospice is about dying, but it’s really about living and meeting your goals. Some people want to leave letters for their families; others just want to be able to live out their remaining days at home. Our team helps them do that, and it’s amazing,” she says.
Learn more about how LVHN hospice care offers emotional, physical and spiritual support.